Rome Reflections

When you visit a city fairly often, you notice things that may not have leapt off the page before.

So… I have a question or two for you. It’s not that I don’t love a great steak or burger. We’ve enjoyed fantastic steaks in Italy, grilled over a wood fire, the Italian way. Eating a good burger once in a while is just the ticket and was T-Bone Station 2almost the first thing we did when we returned from Rome! On one of our wanders around Rome we noticed a restaurant called T-Bone Station and I wondered, hey what’s going on here! Of course there are Burger King’s and McDonalds but we tend to view them as a blight on the cityscape! Besides the steaks, T-Bone Station serves everything from burgers, Buffalo wings, and nachos to good old Pepsi! Did I mention the onion rings, fries, and that totally Italian veggie, corn on the cob? OK…my first question is why and my second one is who’s the market/ demographic? I can see some tourists or exchange students longing for a taste of home and I suppose there are Italians who consider this food exotic or something. And…wait for it…T-Bone Station delivers; simply place your order on-line! WOW is this great or what!

Let’s move onto Hamburgeria di Eataly shall we? Brought to you by those folks from Eataly. You just never know when you’ll need a hit of a North American burger joint! Forget all that amazing Roman cuisine…it’s so “yesterday.” What all us tourists are clamoring for is a burger, right? Again, I ask about the market/demographic. It seems the average price at Hamburgeria is around 40 Euros. All I know is when we travel; we want to immerse ourselves in the cuisine of the country! I can see, like in Vancouver, fusion cuisine happening because of our various Asian influences. So taking the good old North American cheeseburger and putting an Italian spin on it by using pancetta (Italian bacon), cipolle (onions), a tasty, Italian cheese, maionaise ( mayonnaise is used in Italian cooking), senape (Italian for mustard) and a great bun, perhaps something from Gabriele Bonci or the Roscioli folks. Sounds damned good doesn’t it!

All large cities offer a variety of cuisines and Rome is no different.   Not that long ago most other cuisines of the world were not welcomed with open arms in Italy. Italians clung to their own regional fare even with the influx of immigration from different cultures.   As a visitor, trying local foods provides an insight into the culture.  Our experience of travelling in Italy, is the moment you begin talking to people about food, well next thing you know, you are having the best time!

DSCN8443 nx2It’s a plot! Now Starbucks is coming to Milan! Seriously…all our Italian friends can’t get over it, nor can we! I know lots of you adore Starbucks. Italian coffee is amazing, Starbucks by comparison, well, let’s not compare! OK…we’ve figured it out…IT’S ALL ABOUT FREE WI-FI…that’s what it’s about at these places. And all those Italian coffee bars, trattorie, osterie are going to have to suck it up somehow and provide it because everyone needs to be connected all the time! It probably won’t be cheap to do but if they want to keep customers, there may be no alternative. If you’ve been to Italy you’ll have noticed that free WiFi is not that easy to find, so these “smart” folks have found the hook!

We wanted to check out the Eataly location in Testaccio but failing to see the signs at the Piramide/Ostiense station pointing the way to the abandoned air terminal building that houses Eataly, we got lost (what else is new). By the time we figured it out we were in need of lunch. So much for Eataly! I wanted to see what all the fuss is about! And I am still curious! Founded by Oscar Farinetti, an entrepreneur formerly involved in the consumer electronics business, hooked up with the Batali/Bastianich Hospitality Group (Mario Batali, Lidia and son, Joe Bastianich) and they have been busy opening them all over the place. We were able to watch a tour of one of the locations on T.V. which gave me a good overview of what’s on offer. It reminded me of a large, glitzy food court. Friends in Rome were discussing Eataly with us and I asked “who shops at Eataly in Rome?” They didn’t seem interested in doing so.  I guess I can see the appeal in New York City or elsewhere in the States if finding certain ingredients is a challenge. Or maybe this is a way for American Italians to rediscover their heritage? But in Italy?? What concerns me is, won’t this type of large Supermarket, with its one-stop shopping, have a negative effect on the bottom line of smaller shops that have been in business for years? Volpetti not far from Eataly in Testaccio, comes to mind. Or even Castroni, a group of shops in Rome who sell typical Italian products of better quality, a wide assortment of ethnic foods, coffee, tea, spirits and sweets.

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A beautiful bouquet as seen around Campo dei Fiore.  A place to shop, have an espresso or a slice of Antico Forno’s pizza bianca, oozing with EVOO, sprinkled with sea salt or simply wandering about taking in what was once a traditional way of life.

 

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Comments

  1. When we were living in Rome, even I had a hankering for some North American cuisine every once in a while. Usually not a burger, but some barbecued ribs or southern-fried chicken or what not… My favorite spot was a place close to pizza Navona whose quirky name escapes me now. As much as I adore Roman food, variety *is* the spice of life, as they say!

  2. Oh yes, Frank, I know about wanting variety! It’s just I would hate to see all the traditional stuff usurped by North American food. Is the world becoming just to homogenized? I think that is my concern! And, who doesn’t want great ribs, I ask you? On the other hand…not sure Starbucks is completely necessary…

  3. My 2 cents.

    I have been living in Rome for the past 9 years (admittedly not that long in Roman years) and I have seen an enormous change in the types of restaurants that have opened in say the past 5 years. Many of them with a similar design concept (lots of white and woodblocked logos) and serving something other than traditional Italian food, particularly hamburgers. My feeling is this is for a couple of reasons, most of them having very little to do with visiting tourists and much more to do with so many young Italians studying and living in the UK and further afield, or simply traveling more outside of Italy. They are coming home and they are bringing what they see in there countries (varied cuisine and customer service) back home with them.

    When I shop at Eataly it is packed with Italians and I rarely see a tourist, probably for the same reason that you had finding it! It has been open for a few years now and it is still just as busy. I have eaten a hamburger at the Hambergeria after a film at the Barberini and the same, not a tourist in sight only Italians. TBone station was probably the first “American style” place and was here when I arrived in 2006 in an almost exclusively Roman neighborhood near Ponte Milvio and that place is kind of a mystery to me.

    I do not worry that any of these “shiny object” kind of places place any real threat to that traditional family run trattoria. The food culture here is simply too string and too intertwined with daily life here. Same for the Starbucks hysteria. A giant takeout latte tat costs 5 euro is never going to replace a quick stop at the local bar for an 80 cent cafe.

    • Buongiorno Gillian! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your comments! Six years ago, on our first trip to Rome, (Icelandic volcano included)…we simply did not notice the places we saw this trip. However, I did shudder to see McDonalds, etc. I am so glad and relieved you feel that there is no real threat to the traditional family run trattoria. I do a lot of reading/research on the importance of food in Italian culture. Perhaps that’s why I was stunned to see a place like T-Bone Station. The world is changing…Nonna may no longer be in the kitchen and both parents are working their bums off…so, like North America everyone everyone is scrambling at meal time, hence those “meals” from KFC. Italians may or may not be going home for the big lunch these days (but I did see families eating lunch together on workdays, which is, too my mind a great alternative so at least they are able to eat together.) I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that we don’t see places like a Marks and Spencers “Food Only” in London jammed to the rafters with pre-prepared foods…what that a shocker…and I would think a darned expensive way to feed ourselves! But then…I love to cook! BTW…Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe tonight! Can hardly wait to get back to Roma!

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